As a series of suburban school districts are transitioning to blended learning models for the beginning of the school year, Columbus City Schools is advising its parents to prepare for a possible transition after October. Despite a decrease in coronavirus cases, CCS is keeping remote learning in place for all of its students through the first quarter.
The district revealed some costly obstacles when allowing its 50,000 students to return to school two days a week in a hybrid plan. The head of transportation revealed scenarios of taking kids to and from school at some costs of $60 million.
“I want to make sure the community understands exactly the strange situation we find ourselves in,” school board member Carol Beckerle said in regards to transportation. “When we’re in yellow, to be running for routes just to get kids to school, it’s a burden that I think is worth noting.”
Under the state’s color coded public health alert system, CCS will not transport any child if Franklin County falls under purple indicating severe exposure and spread. Under color red for very high exposure and spread, the district would still not transport its students but would still be required to take charter and private school kids to and from their schools.
Under color orange for increased exposure and spread, the district would transport its elementary and middle school students along with all charter and private school students. Under color code yellow for active exposure and spread, the district would transport all students but limit two children to a seat.
The district also created four routing scenarios for blended learning which all come with added costs. In every case, the district would use a four-tier deliver approach meaning four pick-up times and four drop-off times for students.
Scenario one comes at an additional cost of $57.5 million. In it, CCS would transport its elementary and middle school students and all charter and private school students requiring bussing. Children would be assigned to every other seat on the bus for greater social distancing.
However, nearly 250 extra routes would be created and more than 200 extra drivers and buses would be needed.
Scenario two comes with an added expense of more than $63 million. CCS would transport its prekindergarten through 12th-grade students and all charter and private school students who require bussing. Again, kids would sit every other seat. Nearly 350 extra routes would be created needing 330 more bus drivers and buses.
“In some of those scenarios, it’s not cheap to hire a couple hundred drivers in a short period of time when drivers are needed across the nation,” said Steve McElroy, Director of Transportation. ‘Employment is definitely a concern. We have to make sure we have enough drivers who are comfortable to return.”
The last two scenarios place students closer to one another as one is assigned per seat. Scenario three transports elementary and middle school CCS students but no high school kids. Charter and private school students required bussing would also be taken. In this case, the district would need seven more drivers at a more than $300,000 cost.
Scenario four transports all CCS students along with charter and private school kids. The district projects needing more than 25 additional drivers at a more than $1,000,000 cost.
“Transportation seems like something that is going to be the most difficult just like going into one of the buildings,” said school board member Ramona Reyes.
While district leaders said keeping kids closer to one another on CCS buses would be more economically feasible, the board noted its district zip codes tend to be the more concerning in Franklin County.
“Many, if not all, of our ZIP codes, have higher infection rates and hospitalization rates than the surrounding ZIP codes,” said Beckerle.